Joan Buchanan, the Democratic chair of the Assembly Education Committee, grilled administration officials at length Wednesday on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to reform school funding. She wanted, without success, to get them to concede there are flaws and inconsistencies in the plan.

Assembly Education Chair Joan Buchanan speaks at the hearing on Wednesday (photo from Cal Channel video).

Assembly Education Chair Joan Buchanan speaks at the hearing on Wednesday (photo from Cal Channel video).

Buchanan’s intense questioning prompted a frustrated Assemblymember Das Williams, a fellow Democrat from Santa Barbara, to call for a shift in the discussion from “poking holes” in the plan to “doing what we can to make it work.”

Their exchange captured the split among Democrats and the education community between those, like Williams, who want to act now on Brown’s Local Control Funding initiative to redo a school funding system universally acknowledged to be irrational and inequitable, and those, like Buchanan, D-Alamo, who are struggling to understand the details of a complex plan hundreds of pages long.

“I feel like we have the opportunity of a lifetime here,” said Williams, a former community organizer. “I would vote for it if put to us today. Justice should not have to wait a year.”

While agreeing with Brown’s goal of directing more money to high-needs students and “the moral imperative to have these kids succeed,” Buchanan added, “We need to be clear how the plan works. We need to read the details; otherwise, there is an abdication of the Legislature’s responsibility.”

In this looming divide over finance reform, a pretty good predictor of support for the plan is how legislators’ school districts will fare. Buchanan, an 18-year school trustee with San Ramon Valley Unified, serves a largely suburban region. She maintains that her districts would not receive enough money under Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula to bring spending levels back to where they were before the recession in 2007-08.

Williams represents a diverse region of rich enclaves, like Montecito, and less affluent districts, like Oxnard, with a high proportion of low-income children, that would gain substantially. “My district is illustrative of inequities in funding,” he said. “We don’t have equal funding in education.”

Buchanan is far from alone in resisting pressure to push through reforms that have not been thoroughly vetted. Senate Democratic leaders also called this week for a year’s delay. Buchanan and Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, who chairs the Budget Committee’s education subcommittee, see technical challenges that need fixing and major policy questions that need thorough discussion.

Backers of the LCFF, like Williams, fear tactics of delay, death by 1,000 questions. Brown has made the LCFF his priority this year; supporters say adjustments can be made during the seven-year transition to the new system.

Buchanan and others say sweeping changes to the single largest source of state spending – about 40 percent of the state budget goes to education – must be done carefully.

Waiting for revisions in May

What’s not known at this point is to what extent the Brown administration is willing to modify the LCFF in the governor’s May revision of the state budget, out in about two weeks. At Wednesday’s hearing, Nicolas Schweizer, who’s in charge of education issues for the Department of Finance, and Sue Burr, back from retirement as executive director of the State Board of Education to help Brown out with the LCFF, were good poker players. Without hinting at any specific accommodations, they said the administration is weighing various suggestions.

Nicolas Schweizer of the Department of Finance answers a question from Buchanan during the hearing (photo from Cal Channel video).

Nicolas Schweizer of the Department of Finance answers a question from Buchanan during the hearing (photo from Cal Channel video).

Along with transferring Sacramento’s power over the purse to local districts, by ending most categorical or restricted programs, Brown is proposing to funnel about an extra third more money per student for each low-income child and English learner. In addition, Brown is proposing money on top of that for those districts in which high-needs students form a majority. Districts serving only disadvantaged students could potentially get 53 percent more money – more than $3,000 more per student – than districts with few high-needs students.

Buchanan, who did nearly all of the interrogating at the hearing, didn’t question LCFF’s underlying concept of providing equity in funding or the amount of the supplement for targeted students. But she did intensely question other aspects of the plan – most of which have been already raised in previous hearings or in analyses by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Public Policy Institute of California. They include:

  • Size of the core grant for all students:

This is the most contentious issue – and one that Brown can resolve. He is proposing an average of $6,812 per student, which would restore the base funding in 2007-08, known as the revenue limit, and build in cost-of-living increases since then and moving forward. This excludes special education and a few other programs. But the base also does not include categorical money for programs like teacher training, textbooks and building maintenance, because categorical programs would disappear under the new system. Districts with high-needs students would get the equivalent of that money – and more – in the form of supplemental dollars they can spend as they want. But districts with few high-needs students would lose money they once had.

Buchanan pressed the point: “Does not every child deserve textbooks, every teacher deserve training? You can’t talk about local control if it doesn’t include funding.”

Schweizer said the administration would consider adding $200 to $300 more per student to the base. Others say it should be up to $500 – about $3 billion statewide – or more, depending on which categoricals are defined as essential for all students.

  • Concentration grant:

Brown is proposing bonus dollars where high-needs students comprise a majority in a district to compensate for the impact of concentrated poverty. Senate Democrats are proposing to eliminate concentration grants. Buchanan instead suggested that the money be awarded to school sites, not districts. She cited Elk Grove Unified, where schools serving primarily disadvantaged students would get no concentration money because the overall district average is much lower. As a result, high-needs students in two schools with identical demographics but located in different districts would get different amounts of money.

Schweizer said the administration built its model on district allocations and was concerned about a possible inflation of school-site data. In a recent comment in EdSource Today, school consultant Rob Manwaring elaborated in objecting to school-site based grants. There would be, he wrote, a “horrible incentive to further segregate our schools and to end school choice programs like those in San Francisco that offer greater choice to low income students. Basically, under a school site concentration system, a district could make more money if it consolidates its low income students into some of its schools and keeps all of the middle class students in other schools.”

  • Exempted categoricals:

Two large categorical programs totaling $1.3 billion – funding for desegregation programs, known as Targeted Instructional Improvement Block Grants, or TIIG, and home-to-school busing – would be kept intact with current distribution formulas. In the case of busing, the formula is outdated and fails to fund adequately districts that have grown in the past two decades. Thus, Pasadena gets $3 million while Palmdale, with a similar number of students, gets $300,000, Buchanan said. TIIG favors a handful of districts that sought the money years ago: Los Angeles Unified gets more than $800 per student and San Jose Unified about $1,000 per student, compared with $8 per student in Santa Ana, with 91 percent disadvantaged students.

Schweizer cited the threat of lawsuits as justification for keeping the programs intact – a rationale that the LAO found unpersuasive, as did Buchanan and other committee members. With few exceptions, many court orders setting up desegregation programs have been lifted, newly elected Democratic Assemblymember Shirley Weber said. She urged the administration to confront the issue of TIIG. The “glaring inequities” that benefit a few districts are “a thorn in the side of my colleagues” and make it “harder to sell” the LCFF, she said.

  • Accountability for spending:

To ensure that supplemental dollars are spent on targeted students, each district will be required to write a plan, which the county office of education will review, spelling out how money would be used to improve academic results for subgroups of students. Some advocates for minority students argue this won’t go far enough, particularly if the money doesn’t bring results.

At the hearing, Buchanan focused on another aspect: The accountability features will not kick in until the LCFF is fully funded, in an estimated seven years. In the interim, Schweizer acknowledged, “the fundamental premise is that districts should be trusted” to spend increasing amounts of money on targeted students.

Michael Hulsizer

Michael Hulsizer

“There is more accountability now than under the new system in the transition period,” Buchanan responded. The administration’s assumption “is unrealistic,” she said.

Buchanan plans an additional hearing on the accountability issue.

Several dozen patient observers waited for four hours Wednesday to give one minute of testimony. Among them was Michael Hulsizer, chief deputy of governmental affairs for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools and a supporter of Brown’s formula. “We think Finance is listening,” he said, “and are confident that the May revision will address concerns.”

A lot will ride on the outcome.

 

 


Filed under: Equity issues, Featured, Jerry Brown, K-12 Reform, Local Control Funding Formula, Reporting & Analysis, School Finance · Tags: , ,

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  1. David Green says:

    Just wondering if anyone has considered whether *any* method of redistribution based on a formula that has a disparate impact on the basis of immutable characteristics is constitutional. Poorer districts that benefit from wealth redistribution under this scheme have unequivocally higher concentrations of ethnic and racial minorities than do wealthier districts. Wouldn’t the disparate impact cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act apply by analogy to Title VI analyses (i.e., to federally-funded state educational programs)?

    1. navigio says:

      The immutable characteristics are not what is used as the determinant, even as there may be a correlation between the two. So probably not on those grounds.

      By the way, can we get more information on when the additional accountability hearing is scheduled?

  2. Richard ONeill says:

    In fairness, it could be postulated that the so-called Swarwtzenegger settlement(signed the last time a pool of new
    money came through the revenue system, and only after the Govenor was successfully sued), allocated a very large investment of well over a billion dollars to low income schools, and did so with money that might also have been channeled into suburban schools. The CTA was given the responsibility to direct how this money was to be spent in our vast network of struggling schools. The question remains unanswered; to what extent did this investment work? It can be regarded as a singular bellweather of the efficacy of differentially funding those students of greatest need. Can the system spend this new money wisely? Where’s the proof?

    1. navigio says:

      Unfortunately, a billion dollars is nowhere near a large investment in California, especially when spread out over a number of years. In addition, over 80% of that money was intended to be used to reimburse districts for emergency facilities repairs. That’s not an investment, that’s a cover-up.

  3. navigio says:

    At the hearing, Buchanan focused on another aspect: The accountability features will not kick in until the LCFF is fully funded, in an estimated seven years.

    Really? Wow. Why so long? Not enough funding to do accountability right? If so, ronic, since the claim also is that there is more accountability now (with less funding). Ahem.

    I would appreciate if edsource would follow the additional hearing on accountability when it happens.

    I would also like to pepper this discussion with a bit more cynicism. First, I think its odd that since these lcff tenets are considered to be so obvious and shared and from smart people, that we are only now getting around to even talking about them (ok, to be fair, we started last year). Then I think its sad that when the legislature saw that brown might implement something paradigm-shifting, the got nervous for looking like they’ve been sitting on their thumbs and demanded it go through their power ranks instead. Was kind of funny to go read ab88 the first time and notice that it seemed to by nothing more than a copy and paste of brown’s text. Perhaps it is the only way to get something discussed in committee, but its still funny. Then sb69 comes along in apparent haste, but leaves spaces where the numbers are supposed to go. What’s the rush here? It wont be implemented before 14-15 anyway, so it does not seem to make any sense to push something out so quickly unless the sole goal is to divert attention from brown to the legislature. And why not propose it months ago when you could have had a chance of implementing the change this year? On top of that, sb69 looks like most of its accountability portions are existing law (someone can feel free to correct me here, since i’ve only perused it).

    Even worst of all, I am seeing districts and administrations push brown’s proposal (or some variation thereof) but without ever having consulted with, let alone gotten the blessing of parent groups representing the students who will be most impacted by these changes (EL and LI). Really? … Really?!

    Anyway, this process looks like a joke from the community perspective. And not a funny one.

  4. Denise Jennison says:

    While I appreciate that the education community is ripe for change, I am disappointed that we are turning on one another over the LCFF. There is a clear division between winning and losing districts. Those who stand to gain want the LCFF passed now. Those who stand to lose are advocating for thoughtful vetting prior to implementation. Clean up legislation is always messy. If there are identified flaws in the formula, we need to fix those now, prior to implementation. Certainly, as we live with the LCFF for the next few decades, other issues will arise that will need to be fixed. Let’s not jump into this without fixing those that are already identified. I am referring to flaws such as the growth factor. I have not yet heard of a single group that does not agree with additional money for needier students. If we can come to consensus on something that important, then we need to support one another in agreeing to slow down the process and fixing the flaws. Winning districts are still going to come out ahead. It is unjust to deny every child access to an equitable education because we want to get this done now.

  5. Jeff Camp says:

    It would be a huge shame for the Governor’s plan to be picked to death. Let’s remember: the system that we have is not OK. It is unjust, inefficient, inequitable and political. We should not mourn its replacement by a system based on a clear, describable set of principles. This plan is honestly titled: “Local Control.” Districts are inconsistent in their wisdom. It is likely that some local use of funds will be foolish. The comment by Fred Jones expresses this concern well, and specifically. For my part, I have pangs of concern about whether districts will invest in the preparation of new teachers. But we shouldn’t underestimate the capacity for innovation, either. And remember: the system we have stinks. The governor’s LCFF plan has been the recommendation of MANY careful reviews by many committees with members of varying perspectives, including the Education Excellence Committee (see http://everychildprepared.org. ) It’s time, at last, to make this change.

    1. Fred Jones says:

      Jeff: It’s hard to argue with your thoughtful and measured comment. But let me take issue with your assertion that this is truly about “local control.” It’s not. Local control would be doing away with state-mandated (and federally-entangled) API/AYP scores, state-mandated high school course graduation requirements, state high-stakes testing (STAR/CAHSEE), etc., etc., etc. Until we are willing to give LEAs true control, don’t simply give them blank checks with CTE money. Since CTE isn’t part of any of those policy-oriented mandates and drivers, that money will be spent on “more of less” (less CTE, less arts, less history/social science, etc.).

  6. Kim says:

    We do have to remember that districts are already starting to build their budgets. They can’t completely redo them (in their software) at the last minute if LCFF passes. This will cause a nightmare for the finance department of every school district across the state. Do we really need to add that kind of handicap to our districts?

  7. John Fensterwald says:

    Looks like the Senate bill might be more to your liking, Fred, regarding separate preservation of CTE dollars.

    1. Fred Jones says:

      Absolutely, John! But it’s just a marker placed on the table for the defense of the CTE mission and funds (more substantive language to follow). We applaud the Senate’s move!

  8. Fred Jones says:

    The legislative struggles with LCFF are more than simply monetary winners/losers; there are profound policy issues that need to be adequately addressed before LEAs are essentially given blank checks.

    Many Categorical funding programs arose for a good reason: often policymakers created such monetary incentives in light of the fact that certain programs were not part of the policy-related drivers of our K-12 system (what the state requires and hold districts accountable for are the two BIGGIES that have been imposed on LEAs the past thirty years).

    Important programs such as Career Technical Education have been largely ignored by these policy reforms in Sacramento and D.C. … so state policymakers created funding incentives to encourage LEAs to maintain these life-preparing, relevant programs (ROCPs, Apprenticeships, Partnership Academies, Ag Incentive Grants, etc.).

    If CTE dollars are disbursed to all LEAs on an ADA basis equally and with no regard for their commitment to career preparation (and no legal strings attached to such voc ed dollars) — as LCFF proposes — what do you think will happen to the remaining CTE programs that have survived 30 years of policy-prioritization neglect?

  9. Paul Muench says:

    People are creative and with mew incentives we may find that things ther were uncommon before become more common. From the CDE website on the topic of school district boundaries:

    “Most people see school districts as stable or even permanent governmental entities. School district boundaries, however, do change. Territory is transferred from one school district to another, districts are divided or combined with their neighbors, and some districts are terminated. The District Organization Handbook describes how these changes come about and provides reference for procedures and responsibilities for all parties involved in the school district organization process. The District Organization Handbook is available on the CDE District Organization Web page.”